ESPN Botches Taylor Coverage

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, November 27, 2007; 2:35 PM

The initial coverage of the Sean Taylor shooting Monday by ESPN, the so-called worldwide leader in sports news and information, was absolutely pathetic.

Let's see, an All-Pro player is gravely wounded -- murdered, as it sadly turned out Tuesday morning -- during an apparent burglary attempt. On Monday, he was reportedly in critical condition, and all they could do for most of the day on ESPNews was devote about 45 seconds to the story every 30 minutes or so? The rest of the hour was mostly spent on highlights rehashing weekend NFL and college football action.

Regular ESPN led with the Taylor story on SportsCenter Monday night at 6 p.m., but the information came mostly from a constantly updated story being posted on The Washington Post web site. ESPN filled out its meager report with file footage of Taylor in action and lifted videotape of Joe Gibbs and several players reacting to the shooting from Comcast SportsNet and WRC-TV. Chris Mortensen came on the air live from Atlanta, where he's based, but offered little fresh information, and then it was back to the highlights, always the highlights, and promoting the network's upcoming Monday night football game.

News of the Taylor shooting first broke in Monday morning drive time. How could ESPN not have rushed a reporter or two to Miami for constant live updates, either from the hospital or outside of Taylor's home? Surely they must have stringers on call. And Hank Goldberg, ESPN's frequent on-air NFL analyst and a longtime and well-connected South Florida daily sports talk show host, lives in Miami. Why wasn't he pressed into immediate service?

This was a huge NFL news story, and we're not taking a provincial approach on this, either, just because it happens to involve a Washington athlete. If it had been a Hollywood celebrity shooting, don't you think that CNN and its Headline News service would have interrupted regular programming and offered blanket, minute-by-minute coverage?

ESPN would like the world to think it owns the sports news business. Not this time. The boys up in Bristol badly botched this story and did a serious disservice to viewers looking for up-to-the-minute information on a mega sports-news event.

In fact, the model for how a cable news operation should handle such coverage actually was provided locally by Comcast SportsNet.

I tuned in several times Monday evening and was gratified to see that the Bethesda-based network had quickly dispatched Redskins reporter Kelli Johnson to Miami to jump on the story. Johnson, stationed outside Jackson Memorial Hospital, provided breaking information as well as interviews with several key principals on the scene, including Taylor's father and Redskins' personnel director Vinny Cerrato.

On Tuesday morning, several hours after Taylor's death was announced, CBS, NBC and ABC stayed with their regular national morning shows and ran brief stories on the shooting along with a mix of politics, the Mideast peace talks in Annapolis, Dick Cheney's heart procedure and reports on missing women in Aruba and the Chicago suburbs.

But when I turned in to Channel 5 shortly after 8 a.m., the local Fox affiliate, to its great credit, was live from Miami with reporter Maureen Omeh on the scene. The station also brought in a medical expert to explain why Taylor's injury ultimately proved to be fatal, and kept updating the story as the morning went on.

In the same 8 a.m. hour, Comcast SportsNet was airing a taped repeat of a weekend college football game between Washington and Washington State, showing a crawl at the bottom of the screen reporting Taylor's death. They would have been wiser to stay with the Taylor coverage.

In the same 8 a.m. hour, ESPN, on tape, and ESPNews live were still in full highlight mode. Pathetic. Just pathetic.

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